Animal Kingdom Update: October 2018

We conclude our Walt Disney World updates with our first-ever trip to Animal Kingdom. Well, not first ever, but our first dedicated progress report from the park. As we started doing these last summer after Pandora – World of Avatar debuted, there hasn’t been much construction at Animal Kingdom, and hence no major reason for an update.

There still isn’t much construction, and we debated to have this be Part 3 of our Walt Disney World Fall Trip Recap instead of an Animal Kingdom update, but it does feel a bit more “update-ish.” (And in the end, does the title really matter?) Either way, we had a great full day in Animal Kingdom, and wanted to share some experiences and updates from our visit to the park.

Basically, this post is mix between a straightforward park ‘progress report’ and the rambling thoughts of a trip recap, including my review of the reworked ‘Up! A Great Bird Adventure.’ Aside from that, we’ll also share thoughts on Donald’s Dino-Bash, a last visit to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and photos from around the park.

A lot has changed at Animal Kingdom since Pandora debuted, and for those of you who don’t pay close attention to all of the latest developments at Walt Disney World, or aren’t able to visit regularly, it’s probably worth checking in on the park.

As it’s going to be the longest part of this Animal Kingdom update, let’s start with my Up! A Great Bird Adventure review. I can understand the desire to update Flights of Wonder. The Guano Joe tour guide bit felt a bit like the type of thing you’d see at Universal Studios Florida in the 1990s; it was both dated and cheesy. This isn’t to say the premise was downright bad, it just needed a refresh.

The narrative framework offered via the tour guide provided transitions between bird segments and injected a sense of ‘Disney’ polish that you wouldn’t find at a local zoo. And of course, given the run of the show, Disney fans became attached to the Guano Joe character, who was a solid performer in an amusing role.

We loved Flights of Wonder, but to be honest, after the first couple of times with the tour guide bit, I could’ve used that dramatically toned down…or gone entirely. For me, the heart of this show–in either incarnation–is the birds and how they work with their human trainers.

That is the emotional heft and the heart of the show, and it doesn’t need anything else to be engaging. (To the contrary, I’d say the more straightforward Frequent Flyers Bird Show at the San Diego Zoo is better than any version of the Animal Kingdom bird show I’ve seen.)

As for Up! A Great Bird Adventure, the birds are still present, so that’s good. I can’t tell if their role has been diminished with more talking between human and character performers, or if those segments are just so dull that they feel interminably long. Either way, I find myself checking out when Russell and Dug are on stage without birds. These segments of the show are (still) written for a 7 and under audience.

Ultimately, I find myself questioning why injecting characters was deemed necessary. The birds featured in Flights of Wonder are beautiful, majestic creatures that impart a sense of…well…wonder in guests of all ages. Kids love animals. I know this not because I have kids, but because I once was a kid, and I remember me and all of my friends loved animals. 

If today’s kids are bored by something like Flights of Wonder, it says far more about us as a society than it does about Flights of Wonder. I may be a bit cynical, but I really doubt this was the case–at least in significant numbers. Our animal kingdom wouldn’t cease to be fascinating and awe-inspiring through the eyes of a child over the course of one generation just because iPads were invented.

If there were complaints about Flights of Wonder not being Disney enough, and again I really question the notion that there were, I’d hazard a guess that those came from parents who “paid a lot of money to be here” and “didn’t expect to see some bird show we could’ve seen at the local zoo.” Well, to those hypothetical people, the new version of the show really gives new meaning to an old adage: be careful what you wish for. 

The issue with the new show is that it takes a concept with near universal appeal (birds) and adds something with less than universal appeal (characters). Kids may still like it because they’re the target audience for characters, but as we’ve covered above, they’d like a bird show regardless.

So the question for everyone else becomes, is that thing with universal appeal enough of a draw to overcome the thing with limited appeal? For me, the answer is no. The character parts are too much of a drag, and I can see better pure bird shows elsewhere.

Flights of Wonder definitely could’ve used a refresh, but I’d argue that taking it in the exact opposite direction and peeling back even more of the non-bird stuff would’ve been the appropriate measure. Have a host or someone who is a skilled entertainer to facilitate the action and transition between segments, but drop everything hokey. The birds can speak for themselves.

On a more positive note, I am a huge fan of Donald’s Dino-Bash. The premise of this is clever and wry, and the execution is spot on. The meet and greet areas have a ton of detail, and the character selection is well done, as are those cute dinosaur PJs for Chip & Dale.

This is probably the first dance party I’ve seen and thought, “this dance party enhances this area of the park.” Mind you, this area of the park is Dino-Rama, something I think is complete junk, but Donald’s Dino-Bash is still a nice asset to Animal Kingdom. I hope it sticks around.

As it was closing shortly after our visit, I also decided to make the trek out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to pay my respects to my goat homies and see the area again. It had been a while.

Walt Disney World’s current intention is to retool aspects of Rafiki’s Planet Watch and reopen it in Spring 2019.

Personally, I would not be the least bit surprised if this never happens. And I honestly wouldn’t fault Disney for it.

Having to access this area via train and then having a modest walk for potentially minimal payoff is something that cannot be fixed. More character decorations or whatever they might add doesn’t really change the equation.

The trouble with Rafiki’s Planet Watch will always be that it’s only accessible via train. Even if they were to add an E-Ticket roller coaster back here (they aren’t), that train would be an issue.

Except then, the issue wouldn’t be that the payoff isn’t worth it, it’d be that you have to wait in a long line twice: once for the train and once for the ride.

There might be some balance to be struck, perhaps adding a few rare characters, interactive exhibits with Zootopia characters, etc., but I still think there’d be issues with effort v. payoff.

Or they could just triple the number of goats. More goats, more fun. It’s just science.

It’s really too bad that Rafiki’s Planet Watch is unpopular. The petting zoo is cute, the exhibits inside are interesting, and it’s a nice place to slow down and decompress.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the kind of thing the parks all need, even if most guests overlook them. (You could argue that the Boneyard fills that role, but they’re obviously very different and, I think, complementary.)

While I was at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, I saw my first-ever Animal procedure–a bird put under and x-rayed because it wasn’t eating.

Watching this was awesome. If the original EPCOT Center pavilions inspired my generation to go into certain fields, this type of thing would inspire today’s kids to become veterinarians or go into other animal bioscience fields.

As we noted in our “Walt Disney World Crowd Update: A Tale of Two Seasons,” wait times remain long for both Pandora – World of Avatar attractions.

We saw waits of over 3 hours for Avatar Flight of Passage, with the queue stretching throughout the land and out the walkway to Harambe. Other days, waits have been over 4 hours.

Expedition Everest is fun as always, even with piles of uncleaned hair tie offerings being made to the Disco Yeti.

There’s always a lot of merchandise for Expedition Everest, but nothing that appeals to me. This stuff reminds me of Abercrombie from the late 1990s.

Also saw It’s Tough to Be a Bug, a show I love but don’t see often.

Unfortunately, the Hopper Audio Animatronics figure was not working, which was a huge bummer. I’m sort of surprised they run the show without him, as he’s pretty integral to the experience.

Here’s a dinosaur:

And another:

That’s at least 27 years of good luck–you’re welcome.

This mug is not new, but I think it’s really cool.

That’s about it for our Animal Kingdom update. Not a ton here that is new-new, but it’s a park that continues to change post-Pandora. We’re hopeful that continues to be the case ahead of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary; even though there are much more pressing priorities, Animal Kingdom could still use some tweaks and refreshes.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Animal Kingdom’s bird shows? Do you agree or disagree with our review of Up! A Great Bird Adventure? Other thoughts about Animal Kingdom? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


34 Responses to “Animal Kingdom Update: October 2018”
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